Public opinion backs the case for modernising airspace

11 March 2019

Research commissioned by NATS, the UK's leading provider of air navigation services, has found that 82% of British adults agree that aviation is important for the UK economy and 59% are in favour of airspace modernisation. This underscores the Transport Secretary's comments earlier this week at the Airport Operators Association's Annual Dinner that "reforming the way we use our airspace is among the most pressing of tasks".

Public backing for airspace modernisation is crucial as passenger numbers continue to grow, with 2018 the busiest on record for air traffic with 2.6 million aircraft flying through UK airspace. As aircraft become more technologically advanced, the airspace infrastructure needs to be redesigned to make better use of this technology and safely accommodate the additional 700,000 flights expected by 2030 – without delays and cancellations and while managing aircraft noise and decreasing carbon emissions.

The UK's aviation industry contributes nearly £70bn annually to GDP and employs almost 1.2 million people and this significance is recognised by the public. 72% of British adults agree that the pros of air travel outweigh the cons and 69% agree that they benefit from being able to take flights from UK airports, which may suggest backing the growth of regional airports and major hubs as airports and airlines continue to expand their route network.

The survey, carried out for NATS by polling specialists ComRes, took the views of a nationally representative sample of 2,107 British adults; further research was carried out with 983 British adults living within 20 miles of eight of the UK's busiest airports (Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, London City Airport, Luton Airport, Stansted Airport, Manchester Airport, Birmingham Airport and Bristol Airport).

Despite the majority in favour of airspace modernisation, 80% of respondents know nothing about plans to modernise the UK's airspace infrastructure, demonstrating the need for greater engagement with local communities, businesses and holidaymakers. NATS, together with airport partners across southern England, will be working closely together over the next five years to ensure that the very best options for change are put forward for consultation with the public.

Martin Rolfe, NATS CEO, said: "The Transport Secretary's comments very clearly demonstrate the Government's recognition of how important our airspace is, and the priority they are now giving to modernising it. Redesigning UK airspace is a complex task, yet it is crucial if we are to reduce the impact air traffic has in terms of noise and CO2 emissions and manage the forecast growth in air travel while maximising the benefits for the UK.

"We will be working closely with the airports to increase awareness of future plans with local residents and the flying public so that the impacts of aviation on the environment and those who are overflown can be balanced with the benefits of air travel and the opportunities it brings."

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